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The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

The Woman in the Dunes (1962)

by Kōbō Abe

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1,776343,953 (3.83)1 / 123
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Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
This is a strange book. The protagonist isn't a pleasant character - dismissive of others, cold, aloof - and yet I found myself on his side. The book is quite dreamlike, with things happening off to the side of where you think you are. A simple trip to look for beetles turns into a living nightmare, full of frustration and anger. I didn't like it, but I couldn't stop reading it. It put me in mind of the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil, in its surreal gentle horror. ( )
  missizicks | Dec 4, 2014 |
This is the kind of thing that sticks in your head for a long time. A seemingly simple setup—‘man confined to a pit of sand in an isolated seaside village’—becomes a dark fable, a test of mind over matter, a losing proposition, an existentialist meditation, Abe’s gift to the reader. Do with it as you will.

Suddenly a sorrow the color of dawn welled up in him. They might as well lick each other’s wounds. But they would lick forever, and the wounds would never heal, and in the end their tongues would be worn away.

Avery Karma Pale Ale
Back East Porter
  MusicalGlass | Oct 16, 2014 |
Its about this man who finds himself trapped in this very deep hole in the middle of the sand dunes with this woman who lives there, and they must dig the sand out every night to keep it from burying themselves and the house. it is a giant metaphor, of course, and reminds me of classic existentialist pieces, especially samuel beckett's play, Happy Days (and sartre's no exit, i've been told, but i've never seen that one).

i liked it but found it very distressing to read. the first thing the reader is told is that the man has been missing for seven years, so one can suppose how the story is going to end: he'll never escape the sand hole. this, compounded with the descriptive manner in which the story is written, made me feel as frustrated and angry and anxious and scared as the man himself feels. although the whole plot and circumstance is absurd, everything seems realistic, believable, futile. i guess that means its successful, but for me it was uncomfortably affecting and I'd often find myself getting anxious and panicky while reading it.

Very good book, and there's a pretty successful film adaptation, too.
( )
1 vote allisonneke | Dec 17, 2013 |
I enjoy Murakami and was keen to explore more Japanese fiction; but unfortunately this novel just didn't appeal to me at all. Maybe I'm simply not cut out to read existential fiction. It is the story of Junpei Niki, usually described as just 'the man' or 'he', who is particularly interested in insects which make their home in a sandy environment. Taking a few days' holiday to search for insects on the dunes at the coast, he misses the return bus and seeks shelter in a nearby fishing village. This settlement is already in the process of being swallowed by the dunes, with some houses already half-buried at the bottom of deep pits. The man is lowered into one of these pits, and is welcomed by a woman who has space for him to stay; but little does he realise that the house can become a prison as easily as a sanctuary. From this point on the story becomes an allegory of humanity's struggle against the irresistible power of nature.

The problem is that I simply didn't care about the man or the woman - we don't grow to understand either of them and their interaction is devoid of all emotion beyond an almost mechanical response. And I just couldn't fathom what the moral was supposed to be. The futility of life? Our tendency to cling to what we know rather than making a break for freedom? An allegory of life and death, freedom and imprisonment, the working and the ruling classes? But where in the story is the heart or humanity that should make me care about any of this? While I might have enjoyed this as an existential teenager, I simply didn't find anything rewarding about it now. Please bear in mind however that others have found very admirable qualities, so I'd recommend reading other reviews before you make up your mind. For my part I won't be reading it again.

For a longer review - with even more bafflement - please see my blog:
http://theidlewoman.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-woman-in-dunes-kobo-abe.html ( )
  Leander2010 | Oct 30, 2013 |
Read this in college. Just blew me away. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kōbō Abeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abe, MachiIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cornips, ThérèseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saunders, E. DaleTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One day in August a man disappeared.
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Es gibt wahrhaftig kein wunderlicheres, so von Neid zerfressenes Wesen wie einen Schullehrer! Da strömen die Schüler Jahr für Jahr gleich einem Fluß an ihm vorbei, nur er selber bleibt wie ein tief auf dem Grund des Flusses liegender Stein zurück. Er kann wohl anderen von Hoffnungen erzählen, aber ihm selber sind sie nicht erlaubt. Er kommt sich nutzlos vor und verfällt entweder in selbstquälerischen Trübsinn oder wird ein Moralprediger, der anderen vorschreiben will, wie sie zu leben haben. Eigenwilligkeit und Tatkraft anderer müssen ihm schon deswegen zuwider sein, weil er selber sich aus tiefster Seele danach sehnt.
"... Schriftsteller werden zu wollen, bedeutet, von Egoismus besessen zu sein; man will sich von einer Marionette dadurch unterscheiden, daß man selber als Puppenspieler in Erscheinung tritt. Insofern unterscheidet man sich nicht wesentlich von Frauen, die ein Make-up benutzen."

"Das ist zu hart formuliert! Aber wenn sie schon das Wort Schriftsteller in diesem Sinne gebrauchen, sollten Sie wenigstens bis zu einem gewissen Grad zwischen einem Schriftsteller und dem Schreiben unterscheiden!"

"Ja, genau das meine ich. Eben aus diesem Grund wollte ich Schriftsteller werden. Und wenn mir das nicht gelingt, sehe ich nicht ein, weshalb ich schreiben sollte!"
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679733787, Paperback)

This beautiful novel by one of Japan's most important writers is also one of the most strangely terrifying and memorable books you'll ever read. The Woman in the Dunes is the story of an amateur entomologist who wanders alone into a remote seaside village in pursuit of a rare beetle he wants to add to his collection. But the townspeople take him prisoner. They lower him into the sand-pit home of a young widow, a pariah in the poor community, who the villagers have condemned to a life of shoveling back the ever-encroaching dunes that threaten to bury the town. An amazing book.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:30:16 -0400)

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In this famous postwar Japanese novel, the first of Abe's to be translated into English, Niki Jumpei, an amateur entomologist in pursuit of a rare specimen of beetle, wanders into a strange seaside village, whose residents all live in sandpits. He is taken prisoner, and, along with a widow cast out by the community, he is forced to move into her sandpit and continually shovel away the sand that threatens to take over the village. In Niki's struggles to escape his prison and his developing relationship with the woman, he gradually comes to understand the existential nature of life.… (more)

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